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  • Tiago Rodrigues da Costa

Addario, Vumila and the women's power

While seeing Lynsey Addario's photo-story about the incident in Times Square, where a man accelerated into pedestrians, I had a bad feeling this could be one more terrorist attack. The several videos posted last Thursday on social media, showed a brutal and unpredictable incident; a surreal chaos provoked by a man driving a car in one of the safest places on earth. The Times Square case is teaching us, again, that cruelty will no be stopped with more officers, more weapons, more laws or border control. Cruelty, terror and chaos need to be stopped with education, and no one should stay out. No one. The government should work better to include everyone as equal in a society that should be for everyone, no matter the race, beliefs, sexual orientation, or genre.

Moreover, it's know this case is not related to religious fundamentalism, and I know this case is also not about men vs. women; however, just few days after Mothers Day, I saw myself connection interesting pieces that made me think, one more time, about the struggles that women face in a society empowered by men.

People walks in Times Square. © January 2015

In the morning, people walk in Times Square. © Tiago Costa, January 2015

Like in many other cases related to this one, media makes an effort to investigate who are/were the victims behind the story. As a result, in a recent update by the NY Daily News, it's known that one person died and 22 were injured (one of them in critical condition) in Times Square.

It's know that a 18-year-old girl from Michigan died, when she was peacefully visiting the city with her mother, and her 13-year-old sister who is also in a severe condition. It's also know that a 19-year-old girl from New Jersey stills in a critical condition. In addition, a simple coincidence shows me that all of these people are women and all of them are young. Probably future mothers. So I took this conclusion: for one more time in the history of this planet, one man brutally took life to a woman or left women in a fragile condition. Simply a coincidence? Probably! But, this curious fact made take an action and write my first Journal's article, on my website, about the topic of the women. I take an action hoping that my reader will take an action too, because all are needed in the fight against inequality.

This desire to write about the topic of the women increased because I was reading the book "It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War" by Lynsey Addario. The book, published in 2015, is written in first-person and characterizes the experiences of one of the most influential women photographers covering war zones.

In a territory that is prominently led by men, Addario always looked for stories that would expose the inequality or the atrocities that women is subjected. She said in a recent speech at the Adobe MAX 2016, that being herself a woman is an advantage used to have access to the women reality worldwide. Her persistence made her penetrate in countries like Syria, Libya, Egypt, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Congo, etc, discovering how cruel the war can be and how women suffer under the men's power. She said at the same speech, that in the first time she arrived to the Afghanistan, she saw women begging in the streets, because under the Taliban women were not allowed to work. In addition, under the Taliban, all women have to wear burka, because they influence other men, so they have to be fully covered in public. Besides this, women can't vote and the only book women are allowed to study after their 8-year-old is the Quran. This is just a short representation of what is happening to women under the Taliban and it's also what Addario was looking when she left the peaceful America to cover the Middle-East.

Lynsey Addario represents the search for injustice in places that are most of the times inaccessible or unknown. In the book "It's What I do", in the 7th chapter "Women Are Casualties of Their Birthplace" (175), she drives the reader through places where life is a daily struggle and the future almost doesn't exist.

Here, there is a particular story that caught my eye. At some point, she describes the experience of traveling in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in 2006, where she covered a civil war happening in the eastern part of the country. There, torture happened every-day as she says "soldiers raped women to mark their territory, to destroy family bonds, and to intimidate civilians as a way of establishing power" (191). However, it is when Addario presents real stories, with real names, that I lost my ground. She introduces the stories of three women: Bibiane, Vumila and Mapendo. Addario explains, "I spent two weeks traversing North and South Kivu, interviewing and photographing women who were victims of sexual assault," and she showed being surprised because women were open-minded to share their own stories of suffering. The example below, represents the story of Vumila, and it's so strong that I feel the necessity to inform that even not being visual content, this excerpt contains graphical content.

SHE WAS SLEEPING when she heard a knock at her door. Nine men speaking Kinyarwanda, the language spoken in Rwanda, kicked the door open, entered, and used strips of clothes and rope to tie her and her children's hands in order to rob them. Her husband wasn't home. Once they gathered the things, they untied Vumila and made her carry her own belongings on her back deep into the forest. When she fell from exhaustion from walking up and down the hills and through the woods for about a week, they kicked her. They arrived at the first rebel checkpoint, and men--some in uniform, some in tracksuits--untied her hands. At least nine men raped her and several other woman in a large, open room while the other men watched. The commander of the camp chose Vumila to be his 'wife,' and she was forced to stay inside his house day and night. She was raped over and over and over for eight months. When she had to go to the bathroom, they put a string on her like an animal and followed her to the river. Those who tried to escape were stabbed to death, and their bodies were displayed before the other prisoners. Eventually one of the men who had been detained with her was sent back to the village to find three cows to exchange for each person's release. He found only two cows per person. Vumila and the others were beaten, whipped, kicked, stripped of their clothes, and finally told to run away. They arrived back in their village naked, exhausted, and injured. By the time Vumila's husband returned to the village, she was pregnant with the commander's child. Her husband was angry at her for carrying the child of a Rwandan Hutu militiaman and told her she had to go back to her family. Vumila now wanted only one thing: "All I want is that they accept my children to school. We used to have livestock that help us pay for the school, but now we cannot pay for school, and the government said that they [were] going to help everyone with tuition, free education, but now they sent the children home with no education. What kind a country will Congo be with uneducated children?" (194-195)

In a society led by men, Vumila is a queen in a place with no kings. What is amazing in Vumila's story is that after everything she lived, the only thing she wanted was to have her children in school. That's amazing! That's a a role model right here. Education is important; education is crucial to change perspectives in a world were I should respect to be respected, no matter the race, beliefs, sexual orientation, or genre.

Vumila's story was introduced by Lynsey Addario, the same person that for one side, while working with the New York City Firefighters covered the Times Square crime last Thursday, and for other side, traveled during several years to remote places in order to show the world that cruelty goes beyond our developed societies. I'm sure our world need more Lynsey Addarios, and that's why the life of the girls who survived in Times Square are so important. They may could be [who knows?] the future generations of justice fighters.

This article was re-edited on Jul. 13, 2019.


The "Weekly Journal" blog is updated every Sunday.

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